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Online Casinos European Union

The online casino laws of the European Union are supposed to create fair and standard laws throughout most of Europe. In reality, the EU has a hard time enforcing its standards with countries which do not want to comply.

The European Gaming & Betting Association and the European Commission each have tried at times to impose their will on the individual states in the European Union. While those regulatory agencies have had their share of victories, most national leaders continue to develop policy according to their own whims.

European Gaming Law

The European Union sometimes gets involved in enforcing international gaming standards (or tries to), but most of the gaming laws are handled at the national level. Despite the internationalist spirit in the EU, as one historian put it, the most powerful "Ism" remains nationalism.

The various European countries have different ideas about gambling and morality, so the regulations vary wildly from one region to the next. This can be confusing, so I'll try to bring some focus to the picture.

European Gaming and Betting Association

The European Gaming and Betting Association or "EGBA" is an organization created in 2007 to implement a regulated market for online gambling operators in Europe. The idea was to create a fair and competitive gaming market with common laws for all countries involved with EGBA. While some standardization has happened, problems have arisen. For example, the EU is currently in a conflict with Sweden over its enforcement of online gambling laws. The EU courts believe Sweden administers gaming laws to give native Swedish gambling operators an advantage in the market over other European operators, and has asked Sweden to stop such practices. So far, Sweden has not complied.

Over time, EGBA might gain in authority and scope. Not every member of the EU has joined in the association, so its power remains limited for the time being.

ARJEL in France

In France, ARJEL or the "Regulatory Authority for Online Games" is the regulator of online gambling. ARJEL was created under Article 34 of Law No 2010-476, also known as the French Gambling Act of May 12, 2010. The 7 members of ARJEL are appointed by the President of the Republic. The current chairman is Jean-Francois Vilotte.

When ARJEL first began its activities in 2010, French ISP providers were reluctant to follow their dictates. Later in 2010, the "Tribunal de grande instance de Paris" explicitly told ISPs they must follow ARJEL's regulations. Once it was learned ARJEL had the power to fine non-compliant ISPs approximately $10,000 a day for failure to comply, the ISP providers got in line. Since then, many forms of gambling have been blocked by a firewall.

German Gambling Laws

In Germany, the laws are made complex by the federal system. Americans should recognize the complexities, because it has 13 states, 2 city-states, and 1 free city in its federal system. This makes for a complicated legal framework for online gaming operators. Schleswig Holstein has much different gaming laws than the rest of the states, which conform more closely to one another.

Germany banned most forms of online gambling in 2008, but EGBA challenged the laws, claiming they favored German companies and were therefore a violation of international laws. This led to the Interstate Treaty on Gambling (ISTG) in 2012, though Schleswig Holstein trumped by the other states by passing much more liberal gaming laws. Matters remain unsettled and complicated at present.

Spanish Online Casinos

Spain has liberalized its gaming laws considerably in the past 10 years, with the most recent changes coming in 2012. Where it once had few allowances, now online casinos, sportsbooks, and poker sites from other nations in the EU can operate in Spain, so long as they are duly licensed. The licensing authority is the Spanish National Gaming Commission. Occasionally, you'll hear of another UK or EU online casino being licensed by the commission.

Italy's Internet Gaming Laws

Besides the United Kingdom, Italy has the most liberal and regulated online gaming laws in Europe. This makes the Italian gaming market an attractive investment for many of the online casino operators in Europe.

The gaming market is still evolving, though. In 2006, Italy first allowed online bookmakers to operate in the country. In 2011, the laws were expanded to include online casinos and card rooms. Since then, gaming companies have scrambled to gain licensing in the country, because the Italian gambling community is thought to be enthusiastic.

United Kingdom Betting Regulations

Online casinos are big business in the United Kingdom. In fact, it's such a major market that we gave the UK its own online casino page.

Dutch Gaming Laws

Holland is set to open up its gaming industry to international companies in 2015. State-run Holland Casino has to pay a tax rate of 29%, which is what non-Dutch online casinos had to pay until this year. Now, online casinos pay a 20% rate, which should encourage activity in Europe's 17th-largest online gaming market.

Scandinavian Gaming Laws

Sweden has an open attitude towards online gambling for the most part. Swedish online software companies like Net Entertainment, Boss Media, and Yggdrasil are active, while individual casinos like Unibet and Betsson are major players. A few other casinos, such as Mr Green & Company, are gaining in the market. The European Commission has singled out Sweden as a country which bars foreign competition, so the gambling laws of Sweden could end up being changed in an EU court. For the time being, Sweden shows no signs of changing it regulations.

In Finland, all gaming activities require a license, including online casino operations. Norway has a negative attitude towards most forms of gambling, including Internet wagers. A couple of land-based Norwegian gaming companies are allowed a duopoly, with no one else allowed to legally take bets.

Casinos in the Baltic States

In the Baltic States of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, online gambling is a recent inclusion. When the three tiny countries were in the Soviet Union, all gambling was banned. Since then, Estonia and Latvia have taken a more pragmatic view towards gambling, though their pro-gaming laws only came about in the 21st century. Both Riga, Latvia and Tallinn, Estonia are home to live dealer gaming studios. In fact, many of the leading companies host their live blackjack, baccarat, roulette, and craps from casino studios in Estonia and Latvia.

Online casinos are a recent addition, though. In response to the economic downturn of 2008-09, Estonia passed a pro-online casino law in 2010. This allows for licensed foreign casinos to operate there, while allowing for local companies to sign up players internationally. All three countries are part of the European Union, so their laws must conform to EU gaming laws.

Eastern Europe Gaming

In the former Warsaw Pact nations, gambling is a mixed bag. Like Sweden, Hungary has been targeted for its protectionist laws when it comes to gambling. Once again, the European Commission might one day force changes. For the time being, international gaming companies have a hard time signing up Hungarians. Poland bans online gambling. One Internet gaming site estimated Poland is losing $178 million in tax revenues each year, due to the ban on online gambling.

Ukraine passed "On Prohibition of Gambling Business in Ukraine", which served as a comprehensive gambling ban which included online gambling. With a Pro-Western government in power, the laws might change. Even in previous years, three land-based casinos were allowed in the Crimea. These are in the process of being shut down, now that the Russians control the Crimean Peninsula.

The Czech Republic is thought to be opening up its gaming market to international companies. Currently, the Czechs are considering the passage of a law that would (possibly) raise the tax rate from 20% all the way up to either 30% or even 40%, depending on the publication you read. This is meant to mimic the Irish system of taxation, in hopes of bringing in more foreign investment.

Online Gambling in Greece

Greece, on the other hand, has gone in the opposite direction. Greece once was a haven for online gaming companies, but that changed a couple of years ago when the right-wing government banned most forms of gambling and pushed several top gaming companies out of the country altogether. The idea seemed to provide cover for a Greek gaming monopoly, which is why the European Commission includes Greece alongside Hungary and Sweden as countries which need to bring their laws into EU compliance.

European Gaming Jurisdictions

Gibraltar, Malta, Cyprus, Alderney, and the Isle of Man are prime licensing authorities in Europe. Most of those countries have ties to the British Empire or the Commonwealth of Nations. All try to comply with European Common Market trading laws.